Trainer Doug O'Neill used the 2016 San Vicente Stakes (G2) to launch Nyquist 's 3-year-old campaign toward the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) and could have another Triple Crown contender after the 2017 edition.
After racing just off a rapid pace set by O'Neill stablemate Blabimir, Kaleem Shah's Iliad took the outside route three-wide in the turn, and drew off in the stretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths in the $200,000 stakes Feb. 12 at Santa Anita Park.
"He's a really nice horse," O'Neill said of Iliad. "He has a lot of class. He ran huge today. We just tried not to screw him up."
Law Abidin Citizen moved up from last in the backstretch with a rail-hugging move and even put a head in front in the turn, but was no match for the bay Ghostzapper ridgling in the stretch. Law Abidin Citizen finished a clear second, 4 1/2 lengths in front of 4-5 favorite Battle of Midway, who never seriously threatened in the race.
Blabimir set fractions of :21.89 and :44.08 through a half-mile and was eased in the stretch. It was the third time in five starts the son of Tapizar has been eased or did not finish. Iliad, 1 1/2 lengths in front through six furlongs in 1:08.52, finished off the seven furlongs under jockey Flavien Prat in 1:21.62.
"It was a very lucky pick-up mount," Prat said after taking over for Rafael Bejarano, who was involved in a spill Feb. 11 and took Sunday off. "He's a very nice horse. He broke well (and) actually showed a lot of speed today. We were going pretty fast and I was trying to relax him all the way down the backside.
"When I asked him, he performed so well."
It was the first stakes win for Shah after his split with trainer Bob Baffert on New Year's Eve. Baffert's San Vicente entry, Aquamarine, came in fourth.
"We can all hope and pray for horses like this," Shah said of Iliad, who broke his maiden in a six-furlong sprint at Los Alamitos Race Course by 3 1/2 lengths for Baffert Dec. 18. "I'm glad Iliad came along. I hope he continues to move forward. It's one race at a time in this business, but it looks very promising now."
Bred in Kentucky by Sungyeoun Lim, out of the You and I mare Little Swoon, Iliad now has two wins from three starts and $147,345 in earnings. Iliad was a $285,000 purchase by Baffert for Shah at the 2016 Ocala Breeders' Sales Company March 2-year-olds in training sale from the Eddie Woods' consignment.
Shah said the plan for now is to keep the horse at Santa Anita for the San Felipe Stakes (G2) March 11 and "hopefully" the April 8 Santa Anita Derby (G1).